The Comfort of Loved Ones When the Sickness Hits

Writer and Day to Day contributor Marcos McPeek Villatoro has coped with a lifelong mental illness. But his latest bout with bipolar disorder has helped him appreciate being surrounded by loved ones who support him when his illness hits hardest.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY.

Sick days. Dear listeners, let me confess, on my part and yours, that very occasionally we embrace them when it's time for a break, and more often suffer through them because we're too stuffy-headed or sore to think straight. But the term has a different meaning for writer Marcos McPeek Villatoro. He's dealt with an illness for years; he's still trying to see the bright side of his sick days.

MARCOS McPEEK VILLATORO:

It's no fun being sick. It's worse being sick and alone. We may feel like showing up for work or going out with friends, but sickness makes us want somebody there, someone to care for us.

I got sick this winter. It wasn't the usual cold or flu, but it was an infirmity, one I have known all my life. When depression comes calling, I try to prepare for it with rational thought. It's been here before, I know this will pass, but logic is one of the first white blood cells that falls to this virus. There's nothing you can do to prepare; no preventive shot, no joke book to snap out of it and often no warning.

This winter's attack was worse than most. And, as with past bouts, depression came with the mania, its maverick riding partner on this unbolted seesaw. There's an old saying that wisdom grows with age. I think depression does, too.

I am not unique in this affliction. Generations of McPeeks before me have suffered this lurch between exuberance and desolation. But this winter offered no consolation, nor did medicines that had worked in the past, nor exercise, nor any distraction. When depression hits, you feel a deep solitude, an isolation made worse because being bipolar still has about it a sense of shame, embarrassment, that you are weak in some unique way.

Now in reality, I am surrounded by people offering strength and love. I have great friends and a wonderful family. My wife, Michelle, sensed something was wrong when I stopped writing and took to bed after teaching to sleep away the darkness. It got worse, and she called the doctor who gave me a more detailed evaluation and new prescriptions. My parents kept me company around cups of coffee. Dad told stories; a tonic in itself. My kids, who know, played games with me and piled around me on the couch while I read to them.

I am lucky to live in an age of sensitivity. Nowadays, I am bipolar where once I would have been manic-depressive. I have an `episode' instead of a `breakdown.' But sometimes I think the old terms tell it better. I had gone manic before falling into this latest hole of depression. I did feel broken. It was OK to be busted up, for I had loved ones who gently gathered the pieces and cradled me back to life. I started to write again, the words flowed on the page and, inside me, the most important words resounded: `You are not alone.'

CHADWICK: Marcos McPeek Villatoro is a contributing writer for DAY TO DAY.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More just head on DAY TO DAY.

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